|Colts' costly mistakes end hope of repeating as champions|
|Written by Admin|
|Sunday, 13 January 2008 23:24|
It's become almost an annual ritual for the Colts' coach and quarterback. Except this time, the season-ending postgame was supposed to come in New England or Arizona, not Indianapolis.
``It is always tough,'' Dungy said after a 28-24 loss to San Diego. ``You come in looking forward to playing next week, and when you don't win the game, it doesn't turn out that way. They made the defensive plays to win it when it counted, and we weren't quite sharp enough.''
It was the biggest understatement of the day.
Manning was intercepted twice in scoring territory, Marvin Harrison lost a fumble on his first reception to end another scoring chance, and the Colts' supposedly improved defense couldn't stop the Chargers' makeshift offense.
Another loss brought the usual litany of questions, too.
Did the bye week hurt the Colts?
Was the team Dungy called better than last year's Super Bowl champs really that good?
And, heading into the third straight offseason, will Dungy be coaching again next season?
``This game won't really affect it at all,'' Dungy said of the decision. ``We'll analyze it as this coming week goes on. I will sit down with my wife and talk to Jim and we'll come to a conclusion. I think we are all disappointed now and we are looking forward to next year and improving things.''
The Colts (13-4) want to give Dungy the chance to do it himself.
Team owner Jim Irsay said afterward that he would do almost anything he could to keep Dungy as coach, even helping with giving the 52-year-old more time to spend with his family in Tampa.
But if the Colts plan on getting back to a Super Bowl after being dethroned by the Chargers, they certainly have to play better.
Indy looked more like the impostors of 2005, when they lost at home to Pittsburgh in the divisional round, than the defending champions and they hadn't played this poorly since, well, a mid-November loss at San Diego when the Colts committed turnovers and trailed 23-0 in the first half.
But they couldn't blame injuries or sloppy field conditions like they did then.
This time, it was completely on them.
While Manning finished 33-of-48 for 402 yards with three touchdowns, little else went right.
The Colts blew one scoring chance on their second drive when Marvin Harrison lost a fumble after making his first reception from Oct. 22. They settled for a field goal in the second quarter and lost another scoring chance to extend the lead when Manning overthrew Reggie Wayne and Antonio Cromartie picked it off at the Chargers 11 late in the first half.
It happened again in the third quarter when Kenton Keith dropped a pass near the goal line and Eric Weddle snapped it out of the air.
Yet, Manning still played well enough to give his team two chances to win it at the end, just like last year's AFC championship victory. Instead, both series ended with Manning throwing three straight incompletions on each series.
``They tightened up in the red zone, and it's disappointing we couldn't get it in there at the end,'' Manning said. ``This is a tough one, no doubt about it.''
The Colts' defense was even worse.
Ranked No. 2 in the league against the pass, they allowed nine completions of at least 17 yards, three touchdowns and couldn't stop a Chargers team that was playing with a slowed Antonio Gates (dislocated left big toe), that lost LaDainian Tomlinson in the second quarter with a bruised left knee in the second quarter and quarterback Philip Rivers after the third quarter with a right knee injury.
It was enough to make someone not even pondering retirement contemplate leaving, much less Dungy who has already acknowledged he's unsure about his future plans.
``That's how you lose these games,'' Dungy lamented. ``More of these games are lost than won, and we did things we hadn't done all season.''
Like committing two personal fouls, a taunting call by Bob Sanders that cost them 15 yards on their final first-half drive and a 15-yard face mask against Marlin Jackson on third down, a play that kept the Chargers winning drive alive.
No, the Colts weren't themselves.
And now comes the waiting game, to see if Manning and Dungy will be around next season, too.
``It's hard for me to think about at this point,'' Manning said. ``I'm not sure what we'll find out at that meeting. It's always disappointing, in general, and it's hard to think about that at this point.''